Bunnie Hilliard, owner of Brave + Kind Bookshop in Decatur, said she is delighted that downtown Decatur continues to have a bookstore tradition. “It reminds me of Brooklyn, New York, neighborhoods where people can walk from bookstore to bookstore, all within a few doors of each other,” she said, acknowledging that “bookstore browsing has taken a major hit during COVID.”
Even before a worldwide health crisis forced many businesses of all types to close their bricks-and-mortar operations, many bookstores—both locally owned and those that are part of chain—have closed in response to a trend toward online book sales, Hillard noted. “Bookstore browsing is an experience that goes beyond just choosing books and purchasing them. I hope that tradition returns when the pandemic is over.”
Hilliard describes Brave + Kind Bookshop as a “thoughtfully curated” children’s book shop with an intentionally diverse selection of children’s books. It offers what Hilliard said is “a unique selection of inclusive, classic, artful stories, story clubs, and special gifts.”
“When my daughter was small, I wanted to find ways to keep her excited about learning to read. On outings to the playground with friends we would bring books and the children would take turns reading from their favorites,” Hilliard recalled. Later she organized The Giggle Girls Book Club with her daughter and friends selecting books to read and discuss. “I was careful to include books with Black and Brown main characters so my daughter and her friends could read stories about people who look like them. Those weren’t always easy to find.”
As her daughter grew older, Hilliard said she started to consider what the next chapter of her life would look like. She decided that she would like to open a bookstore that features the types of books she had selected for her daughter and her friends.
“I hadn’t saved a bunch of money so I wasn’t sure how I could find an affordable space,” she said, noting that fate stepped in at the right moment. While Hilliard was taking a class in a building in the Oakhurst area, she learned that the current occupant was planning to vacate soon, and the space would be available and affordable. “I didn’t choose this space,” she said of the West College Avenue location, “it chose me. At that point I knew it was now or never. I decided I would rather regret trying and failing than regret not trying at all.” Brave + Kind Bookshop opened in 2018.
Hilliard said while many bookstores have a children’s section focused on inclusion, at Brave + Kind that’s the entire store. “I want children of all backgrounds to be able to read about children who look like them—and who don’t look like them.” She said hers is not an activist store and doesn’t just offer books whose theme is social justice. “I look for books about children doing what children do—playing, exploring, learning, imagining their future. I just want to be sure some of them happen to be children of color. There are books about the civil rights struggle, but that’s not the whole focus of the store. I look for books that are thoughtful and engaging.”
Hilliard said she prefers a store that’s abuzz with activities, but since the onset of the pandemic, the shop has operated more as a fulfillment center, giving customers the option to order from the website and come by for pick up or have selections mailed to them. Events also have gone virtual with activities from lunchtime book readings for children, writing classes for children, to book fairs being conducted as online events.
“We’re fortunate in having found a way to keep going. I have friends who had successful businesses who had to close their doors. We were forced into learning new ways to do business very quickly,” Hilliard said.